The Best & Worst Of Euro 2016


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November 12th 2016
Published: December 11th 2016
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Europe 2016

My second backpacking trip around Europe to the places a little off the beaten path.

Marseille, FranceMarseille, FranceMarseille, France

Marseille was my favourite city out of the 46 I visited on this trip.
8,444km. 145 days. 46 cities. 22 countries. Euro 2016 - my backpacking trip, not the football tournament (although the tournament did play a part in my trip) - has finally come to an end.

After finishing up in Switzerland I took a flight to London where I spent three weeks sorting out admin, catching up with friends, catching up on the blog and generally taking a break from travelling. The last week of my travels before flying to London was particularly hectic (I walked about 120km that week) so I was relieved to be able to stay put for awhile. It was nice being somewhere familiar, re-living the life I had (sort of) when I was in living in London and being able to speak English completely naturally with the entire population, with everyone able to understand me and me them. It has been sixteen months since I was last in an English speaking country (without counting Belize, where I only spent three days).
If I was to be completely honest, I thought about how nice and easy it would be to pick up a job here and settle back in; to have my own place again, to be among my friends again, to earn
Meteora, GreeceMeteora, GreeceMeteora, Greece

These stunning views were the best thing I saw on my trip.
money again, to be able to spend freely again, the routine of 9 to 5 again. It's crazy what you miss after thirteen months on the road!
But the show must go on; I can come back to London again anytime and restart my life - but if I was to do that, then I may never again get the opportunity to do continue this world trip.

Like I mentioned in my last blog entry, backpacking Europe second time around was a different experience to the first time. I probably had more fun the first time as much of what I was seeing was for er, the first time and my mind was captivated by wonder. I also seemed to have the energy back then to get drunk every other night while still managing to sightsee and/or travel the next day!
This time I was off the beaten track a bit, visiting different kinds of spots; less visited spots and 'old people' spots.
The problem with travelling for so long however - especially (without meaning to show off) having seen as much as I have - is that things start to all look the same. For example, I'm not really impressed
Korcula, CroatiaKorcula, CroatiaKorcula, Croatia

The islands of Hvar and Korcula were the most beautiful spots of everywhere I went on this trip.
by churches and old towns anymore since I have seen so many! Particularly towards the end of the trip, I was starting to get a little bored.

Nevertheless, I still had some great times, awesome experiences and saw some spectacular stuff. Like I did after my first European sortie and after my journey through Latin America, here is a summary of the best, the worst, the hottest, the coldest, the most beautiful and the ugliest, of Euro 2016;

Top 5 Favourite Cities
5. Lyon, France - I don't know how much Euro 2016 (the football tournament this time) had to do with it, but I found Lyon to be quite the lively city. With good food and plenty to see, this beautiful city would make a great city break. A bit on the expensive side though...
4. Warsaw, Poland - I was very surprised by Warsaw. Euro 2012 (the football tournament) has seen the installation of an amazing public transport system and the city gives off the vibe of being a modern, progressive, cosmopolitan city. I wished I'd spent longer here; there is an interesting if tragic history to learn about, a cute old town and plenty more. Also great for a weekend away.
3. Sofia, Bulgaria - you could say the same
Lucerne, SwitzerlandLucerne, SwitzerlandLucerne, Switzerland

Scenery like this come with a cost; Switzerland was the most expensive country I visited on this trip.
about Sofia as I did with Warsaw. It is surprisingly pretty in places too and has that central European charm. Plus it's cheap!
2. Kiev, Ukraine - I ended up staying a couple of days longer than planned in Kiev because there was so much to see and do. There are more than a few shades of Moscow here. And if Sofia was cheap, this was the cheapest.
1. Marseille, France - I was meant to stay just three days here but ended up here for almost a week. Again, there is good public transport here, there are charming neighbourhoods, it is close to nature and it is by the sea! This beautiful city has everything.

Top 5 Beautiful Spots
5. Verona, Italy - this was probably the most beautiful city I visited. No wonder Shakespeare decided to set Romeo & Juliet here.
4. The Alps, Switzerland - there is no denying that the scenery here is breathtaking. Grindelwald is that rural, Swiss, mountain town you've always dreamed of and the view over Interlaken from Harder Kulm is spectacular.
3. Lake Koman & The Accursed Mountains, Albania - the sheer cliffs plunging into Lake Coman evoke the fjords in Norway and the mountains are similar in look to the Swiss Alps even if
BulgariaBulgariaBulgaria

Sights like Buzludzha helped make Bulgaria my favourite country of the 22 I visited. Bulgaria also had the friendliest people that I had met on the trip.
they aren't as as high or as epic - but I'm putting northern Albania ahead of the Swiss Alps because it's less developed, less touristy and less - by a long, long way - expensive!
2. Corfu, Greece - I'm definitely a summer creature so it's no surprise I've put the beaches ahead of the mountains. The parts of Corfu I saw were absolutely gorgeous with pristine water, golden beaches and sheer cliffs. And there is so much of the island left to explore. It is super-touristy for a reason and I'll be back.
1. Hvar & Korcula, Croatia - Croatia's secret has long been out and you can see this by the number of tourists here. But on both Hvar and Korcula, I could never quite get over just how beautiful the islands were, with their old forts, Venetian towers, crystalline waters and spectacular views.

Top 5 Cuisines
Some cuisines haven't made it onto this list (like Italian and Spanish) simply because I couldn't afford to sample them!
5. Albanian - there are a couple of unique Albanian dishes that I really liked - ferghese and tave - and some of the bread was delicious; but you did get a bit sick
French FoodFrench FoodFrench Food

Still my favourite cuisine.
of the goat's cheese which comes with EVERYTHING.
4. Basque - the pintxos in Bilbao are second only to the ones in San Sebastian.
3. Romanian - Romanian cuisine has some unique dishes; ciorba (sour soup) and sarmales (stuffed cabbage) are just two which I enjoyed. There is lots of polenta, which I love, but possibly the best dessert I have ever had is papanasi - a freshly fried dount served with white cheese and plum sauce.
2. Bosnian - Balkan cuisine is pretty much the same across the entire region so every country on the peninsula will claim staples such as burek, cevapcici and ajvar as their own. The best of all three that I had however, was in Bosnia, and I miss them every day.
1. French - French food was already my favourite European cuisine and after splashing out to try cuisine lyonnais and bouillabaisse, this opinion has only been reinforced.
Honourable mentions that did not make this list are Ukrainian for their dumplings and meat pancakes - and how incredibly cheap it all is - and the cheese-based Austrian dishes that I tried in Salzburg. Austrian bread also, is amazing.

Top 5 Best Hostels
5. Kiev Central Station, Kiev, Ukraine - it is all about the atmosphere here, where everyones stays for a while and become your family.
4. Z-One Hostel, Lviv, Ukraine - I have never seen queen-sized bunk beds before setting foot in this modern, clean hostel. All for just 5€ a night too!
3. Hostel Mostel, Sofia, Bulgaria - beds come with your own privacy curtain, light switch, power socket and valuables locker and there is always a lively atmosphere at this centrally located hostel where it's easy to make friends.
2. Hostel Majdas, Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina - it really felt like you were just sharing a house with a whole of friends here, it felt so homely. And the showers and included breakfast were amazing.
1. Hostel Pirate, Ulcinj - there was no doubt about my number one. When I needed somewhere to chill, along came the perfect hostel to do so in Hostel Pirate. Like Hostel Majdas, it felt like I was sharing a holiday home with a whole lot friends. After a while, it just felt like home. The owner Dijana made a great effort to get people talking to each other (the free beer helps!) and the days
Ostello Villa Francescatti, Verona, ItalyOstello Villa Francescatti, Verona, ItalyOstello Villa Francescatti, Verona, Italy

In an old villa on a garden estate, this hostel is beautiful on the outside. On the inside however, are 36-bed male dorms and communal showers making it for me, the worst hostel I stayed at on the trip.
playing cards and going on adventures while at Hostel Pirate will have to go down as my most enjoyable.

Top 5 Worst Hostels
I thankfully didn't stay at any really bad hostels but for one reason or another, I didn't enjoy staying at the following;
5. Bavaria City Hostel, Fussen, Germany - this was actually quite a nice hostel, modern and very clean. There were just too many stupid rules for my liking.
4. Hi Skopje Hostel, Skopje, Macedonia - this was also quite a nice, homely hostel but being berated by the owner for checking out late left a bitter taste in the mouth.
3. Youth Hostel Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria - a bit of a walk from town and I didn't like the sterile atmosphere of this YHA gig.
2. Berat Backpackers, Berat, Albania - I wasn't in a good mood when I was in Berat which may have negatively affected my opinion of this hostel but it was dirty and the bathroom was in a dire state.
1. Ostello Villa Francescatti, Verona, Italy - housed in a former mansion, the building and the grounds of this hostel are lovely. However, I was staying in a 36-bed male
Kravica Waterfalls, Bosnia & HerzegovinaKravica Waterfalls, Bosnia & HerzegovinaKravica Waterfalls, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Just one of the stops on Bata's tour of Mostar and the surrounding areas - the best experience that I had on the trip.
dorm with communal showers. It felt like I was staying in a convent.

Top 5 Best Experiences
5. Partying in Hvar - the only time where I was constantly going out and getting shitfaced. Good fun though.
4. Watching the Euros in France - it was great being in France for the European Football Championships and going along to the fan zones to watch games. The atmosphere was lively!
3. Hiking from Valbone to Theth - great fun, with great scenery and great friends.
2. Hanging with the locals in Tiraspol - staying with a local in his apartment, this was perhaps the most immersive and interesting experience of the whole trip as I learnt about the curious 'country' of Transnistria.
1. Bata's tour of Mostar and Hercegovina - perhaps the most rewarding experience of the trip. Not only did Bata take us to some awesome sights, but it was what we learned about the history, life and culture of the area and its people that was the best thing about the tour. Bosnia of course has a terrible recent history and it was moving to hear and learn about it through Bata's and Majda's first-hand experiences.

Top 5 Sights
5. Buzludzha, Bulgaria - this brutal, Communist, concrete structure upon the top of a hill
UkraineUkraineUkraine

This is the bell tower of St Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev. Ukraine was by far and away the cheapest country I visited and one of my favourites.
is also known as the Bulgarian UFO. Unfortunately, I couldn't go inside this former Communist Party headquarters - otherwise it surely would've ranked higher.
4. Peles Castle, Romania - forget Dracula's Bran Castle - Peles Castle is the best one to see in Transylvania.
3. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany - the castle which inspired Walt Disney's is a bit of a cliche for some but it really is an impressive sight both inside and out. Its setting atop a hill with the Bavarian plains in the background really does make this the fantastical "castle of castles" that everyone dreams about.
2. Mezhyhirya, Ukraine - I've seen many a palace but few with the lived-in feel of the former president of Ukraine's former residence. It has the opulence of gold, diamond-encrusted toliet brushes along with all the latest mod-cons. The extravagance was both staggering and sickening at the same time.
1. Meteora, Greece - the name literally means "in the heavens above" and you certainly understand why when you see these giant rocks rising out of the Road Runner like landscape. The scene is dramatic and this sense of drama only increases when you spot the Orthodox monasteries sitting atop them. The best sight I saw on Euro
Mostar, Bosnia & HerzegovinaMostar, Bosnia & HerzegovinaMostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Here the mercury hit 42 degrees - in the shade. It was the hottest temperature I experienced on the trip.
2016.

Top 5 Favourite Countries
5. Ukraine - Certainly, when a country is so cheap and you can live like a king, of course you're going to enjoy yourself more. There's more to Ukraine than being cheap though; Kiev in particular has lots to see, Lviv is lovely and you can even go to the beach in Odessa.
4. Bosnia & Herzegovina - learning about the tragic recent history definitely sees you form an emotional attachment to Bosnia but the Islamic architecture, Ottoman villages and beautiful natural wonders also help.
3. Albania - I had the most fun I think in Albania, where things are cheap, there is a backpacker trail, where it's still relatively untouched by foreign tourism and where you can appreciate the most Ottoman influenced country in Europe outside of Turkey.
2. Greece - I tend to forget how beautiful a country Greece is until I get back. The islands and its beaches are its highlights although having the monasteries of Meteora and important history and ruins of Ancient Greece also help.
1. Bulgaria - For me, Bulgaria had everything - an established backpacker trail so you can make friends and have fun; amazingly cheap prices;
Swiss AlpsSwiss AlpsSwiss Alps

It was here in the mountains that I experienced the coldest conditions of the trip.
well-developed cities and pretty old towns; and the friendliest people in the Balkans.

Top 5 Cheapest Countries
5. Montenegro - massive bureks for a euro.
4. Albania
3. Macedonia
2. Bulgaria - 1.20€ for 2L of beer.
1. Ukraine - 2.30€ steak dinners, 5€ a night hostels and 0.50€ pints of beer. Ukraine may well be the cheapest country I have ever visited.

Top 5 Most Expensive Countries
5. Austria - staying with locals shielded me a little from the high prices in Salzburg but I felt the full force of them in Innsbruck.
4. Italy - getting value for money for food and drink in particular was a challenge in Italy.
3. France - probably didn't help that I was there during the Euros.
2. Liechtenstein - Liechtenstein has the highest GDP per capita in the world and it shows.
1. Switzerland - it hurt spending money here; I spent the same in three days here than I did in almost two weeks in Ukraine.

Top 5 Friendliest People
5. Bosnians
4. Czechs
3. French - the stereotype of rude, arrogant French people has never held true for me.
2. Croatians
1. Bulgarians

Top 5 Beaches
5. Ksamil, Albania
Rovinia Beach, Corfu, GreeceRovinia Beach, Corfu, GreeceRovinia Beach, Corfu, Greece

The best beach I went to.
- there are some great sand beaches here but there are too many people in this resort town. I did manage to find a secluded beach that was a bit on the rocky side.
4. Limun I, Ulcinj, Montenegro - not bad and not too crowded for a city beach. A bit too stony, perhaps.
3. Calanque de Sugiton, Marseille, France - you need to hike to get to this one but its seclusion is well worth it. If only the weather played ball and the water wasn't freezing!
2. Mlini Beach, Hvar, Croatia - clear water, perfectly-sized pebbles...if only there were less people.
1. Rovinia Beach, Corfu, Greece - only reachable by a hike or by boat and with water so clear you can see your feet from neck-deep, Rovinia was just about perfect.

Hottest Weather: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina: 42 degrees. In the shade.
Coldest Weather: Interlaken, Switzerland: 3 degrees. There was ice and snow on the ground up in the Swiss Alps.

And that is that.

I now have nine months on the final leg of my journey around the world - in Asia. I could do with a change of scenery and things don't get too much different to Europe than my next destination; India!

See you on the flip-side!
Derek

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